Most people would answer “time”…and they’re wrong.
The most important commodity you have and must manage in order to maintain high productivity is energy, not time.
Why? Well think about it for a second.
Let’s say you managed your schedule meticulously and planned every second of every day, but when it came time to DO something in each slot you had low physical energy levels, you were anxious and stressed, and you couldn’t focus on your work and were unmotivated. How much do you think you’ll actually get done? Not very much.
Well, this is where many people sit: they think that buying a time planner and working out a rigorous schedule is the key to unlocking sky-high productivity levels. And it’s never that simple.
Instead, they should be focusing FIRST on properly managing energy levels and THEN managing their time.
This subject is much too vast to cover in one blog post, but I want to briefly look at four distinct areas of energy that you must control to achieve “superhuman” levels of productivity.
Not taking care of our bodies affects our work more than we think.
When we eat poorly, sleep too little, crash our adrenals with stimulants, rely on sugar highs to feel energy, etc., we are contributing to long-term degradation of our physical capacities.
The fact is, when you feel lethargic, tired, physically uncomfortable, etc., it has a HUGE effect on your productivity levels. It’s very distracting and hard to mentally push through. On the flip side, when your body feels healthy, rested, energetic and refreshed, it makes can make production a breeze.
Our physical energy capacity is defined by quantity. It is measured in these terms (high to low).
Our ability to focus on what we’re doing when we’re doing it is paramount in our ability to be effective workers.
If our minds are cloudy, distracted and “weighed down,” and we are unable to really focus in that moment, our productivity levels suffer immensely. When our attention is fixed on internal struggles and problems, it becomes very hard to stick to the task at hand. Our “noisy heads” can waste HUGE amounts of our time.
Our mental energy capacity is defined by focus. It is measured in accuracy (specific or scattered) and location (external or internal).
Our feeling of positive or negative emotions affects how we view everything around us and thus affects our ability to produce.
If we are angry, anxious, worried, stressed, etc., we simply will not be as effective than when we are uplifted, challenged and positive in our outlook.
Our emotional energy is defined by quality. It is measured in terms of pleasant (positive) to unpleasant (negative).
Though this sounds kind of “new agey,” it’s actually pretty simple. The “spiritual energy” you bring to a project is your sense of purpose and motivation for completing the project.
If you could care less about the work, you obviously haven’t connected it to any strong purpose of yours and you’ll bring little internal motivation to it. This can be a huge barrier when you’re trying to push through obstacles and get things done.
Our “spiritual energy” is defined by force. It is measured in terms of strength of purpose (weak to strong).
Books have been written on correctly aligning these vectors, but it’s easy to get our wheels turning with just the following:
1. Work out how you can raise your physical energy levels.
2. Work out how you can remove distractions in order to better focus on the tasks at hand.
I’m a Nazi about doing what I’m doing when I’m doing it. When I’m working, my email is closed, I’m not available on any instant messengers, I ignore my cell phones, I don’t have something going in the background that pulls attention like a TV or radio, and I listen to music that helps me focus (classical and movie scores, mainly).
If there are personal issues, I simply shove them aside and refuse to dwell on them. They can be addressed in their own time. Stewing over them when I’m trying to work accomplishes nothing.
The Pomodoro Technique is a good way to learn to really focus on what you’re doing.
3. Work out how you can lower your stress levels and be more positive in your work.
Regular exercise and getting enough sleep are big parts of this. Listening to music can help a lot too. Sometimes simply deciding to be in a better mood, despite reasons not to, even works. Remember…
(I actually have this hanging up in my office.)
4. Work out how can you ensure your work connects with a deeply-held purpose or desirable goal of yours.
I talk about this in more detail in my article on the value of a purpose-driven life, and think it’s an incredibly important aspect of long-term productivity and fulfillment.